Carry Less – Photograph More: Elevate Your Travel Photography

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As a travel photographer, either on assignment or shooting a personal project, capturing great quality images that represent the spirit of a place and its people is key.

Looking to achieve that was a priority for me, so I always traveled with a bag full of gear, including at least two DSLR bodies, three or four lenses, flash, tripod, batteries, etc. It was a heavy load, and it slowed me down. I am a Nikon shooter, so my first approach to unload weight was to carry an all-purpose lens. I got the Nikon 28-300mm, and along with this, I’d carry the 14-24mm for wide-angle shots. Now I needed a backup camera or second body. I debated whether to keep carrying another Nikon body or to try something more compact. Finally I decided to get myself a mirrorless camera; enter the Fuji X system. My first mirrorless camera was the Fuji X-E1 with the kit lens, the wonderful Fuji 28-55mm. That camera was a turning point for me, and after my first trip I was sold on the system. Yes, I still shoot Nikon, but I just don’t travel with those big guns anymore.

The mirrorless technology is now really advanced – gone are the days when the image quality was not up to par with DSLRs and the availability of lenses was scarce. There are similar options from different manufacturers: Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic all have systems that eliminated the reflex portion and bulkiness of the typical DSLR. Please understand that I am mentioning Fuji because that’s the camera I use, but this is not an article to discuss a specific camera or brand. What you should consider is that for the most of us, the image quality of these cameras nowadays is amazing.

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I’d say I’ve switched, at least for travel. Fuji is now my go-to system for everything on the move, including photo walks. If you are planning to invest in a camera system, you should at least give mirrorless consideration, and here is why:

1) Travel Light

When using a mirrorless system, traveling light doesn’t mean that you’ll be out of options in the field. In just a small camera bag, you can fit a lot. This Domke F-3X Super Compact bag contains two bodies, five lenses, a flash, four extra batteries, radio triggers, a GPS for geotagging and SD cards. What I have here in terms of camera are the Fuji X-T1, Fuji X-E2, Fuji18-55mm zoom, Fuji 55-200 zoom, the 23mm and 35mm primes and an 8mm fish-eye from Rokinon. Believe me, I can carry this all day long without putting strain on my back, which brings me to the second point.

CAMERA BAG

2) Shoot all day

Wandering light means you can wander more. A small and light kit won’t wear you out and you can pretty much shoot all day long. With these cameras you can always have one on you, even if you are not carrying a camera bag. There are plenty of options where you can take them on your belt and even inside the pocket of a jacket. Having a camera with you all the time brings more opportunities to capture the people and places where you are traveling. The photo below was taken my first day in New Orleans; after a long flight I just went out for a walk with the Fuji X-E2, the 23mm prime and a flash in my pockets, and when the opportunity presented itself I was able to shoot it.

Street performer at night in New Orleans

3) Be invisible, blend in

There is nothing more annoying than people being scared of you. Trying to stick a big lens or camera in front of people in public spaces, or even worse, in remote locations where you don’t speak the local language, is a formula for disaster. There is also a difference if they see you as a pro photographer or just another tourist. When you carry a small camera, you’ll most likely go unnoticed or they won’t feel as intimidated as they would when they think you are pro shooting for a magazine. I personally love to shoot markets: these places, away from big cities, are one the best ways to explore local cultures. I’ve noticed a big difference since I started to shoot with the Fujis on my trips. I can blend in more, I can aim the camera, smile, and get a photo with no problems, whereas before many times I’d have people turning their faces down or away from me. Just consider this fact alone and the difference it can make in your photography.

Old Burmese woman smoking a cigar

Another great feature besides what is mentioned above is how easy it is to work with an electronic viewfinder. Imagine being able to see exactly what are you getting in your viewfinder before making the shot. You can quickly adjust camera settings and see the changes on the fly. Seeing where your whites are clipping or how the shooting mode will affect the result of the image without having to move your eyes out of the viewfinder is phenomenal. I could go on an on about the benefits, but I am not a technical person.

If you like to travel and go places, in my opinion this is the way to go. The future is even brighter, as manufacturers continue to develop their lineups. Mirrorless is versatile and delivers excellent results. Touring light will make your travel photography better and you’ll be able to enjoy your trip more.

Any other mirrorless fans here? Show us your photos and tell us about it.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Daniel Korzeniewski is a Miami based, travel photographer. His work appeared in several publications and contributes to various stock photography outlets. He often leads photography travel tours, find more about his work, travel adventures, and upcoming tours at his website by clicking here. You can also follow his Instagram account.

  • Jacob

    Wouldn’t exactly call this traveling light…

  • I travel with my 5DIII and 3 lenses. It is my walk around
    set up at home so I don’t find it all that heavy when traveling. It is a pain
    when I am in transit with my luggage but when walking the streets it is the
    same weight I am accustomed to at home. It helps to be in shape and maybe that
    is the real problem for some people, not heavy gear. The big 24-70 L Brick
    doesn’t scare too many people that a huge smile can’t cure.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/phil_marion/sets

    When walking
    through a neighborhood photographing people if I encounter hesitancy at my big
    camera I just show the person a few of the photos I’ve already taken and this
    alleviates any fear.

  • There are a couple typos. It’s DSLR not DSRL. 🙂

  • Just GRD will be light…

  • Thank you for your comments. I actually used to do it the same way. But everything changed once I tried the smaller body the first time. At the end all we want is to do it the way it works better for each of us, so there is nothing wrong if you feel comfortable carrying your regular equipment. Your port looks really nice. I just landed in Hanoi, will be touring North Vietnam for the next 7 days, liked your pics from the region. Thanks.

  • Mike Sweeney

    I did this compete with the Thinktank International case. I’m down to my iPhone and my OMD with two lenses. A 17mm (50mm) and a small zoom. I do have the flash but I hate it. So I may go with something else instead of the OMD. But there is not any reason to carry around the D700 anymore on a trip. I figured this out when on a trip to the UK, my D300 never came out of the bag. I shot the entire trip on my Canon G11 and was perfectly happy with the results.

  • Yes Mike, same here…. I am using cheap Yongnuo Flashes, they are great and really cheap, you´ll have to use them manually, but they come with radio trigger built in, so it works really good for me.

  • Fixed thanks. Funny how the brain works. I read over those and totally did not see that – thanks!

  • Arindam

    You mean the Fuji XF 18-55 f/2.8-4 and not the 28-55, right?
    These days I use only mirrorless. Sold my D800 and never looking back.
    I used an OM-D E-M1, Fuji X-E2 and only primes – 23 1.4, 14 2.8, 35 1.4 on Fuji and 17 1.8, 45 1.8 on Olympus. The entire gear along with flashes and everything weighs a quarter of my Nikon gear. My back has never been happier

  • Yes I refer to that lens, the Fuji X 18-55. I am glad you´re happy with the change.

  • Kevin

    I bought the Sony Nex 5 a year ago as a holiday camera. Since then I have purchased a range of lenses to suit as my experience has grown but have felt no need to change this camera at any time for something “bigger or better”. The quality is great and it’s an easy to use go anywhere camera.

  • Yes, I’m a fan of traveling light for sure. Especially after an accident a few years ago, which resulted in a chronic injury. My go-to travel camera is the Fuji X100s right now and my iPhone. You can do a lot with a little these days. My plans are to get the XT-1 or something like it in the near future to expand lens options while traveling.

  • councillorjack

    I think you are still carrying too much and certainly more than I could carry round all day. I have cut down to my Nikon D90 body with just a Sigma 18 – 250 and never needed anything else. Don’t even carry a bag, protect camera and lens in foam rubber case. Surprising how well you can do with minimum gear.

  • Thanks Daniel,
    If you get a chance do try to get to see the market in Bac Ha. The locals visiting that market are much more interesting and colourful than anything near Sapa. And it is less touristed. Ideally spend the night in bac ha the day before. It takes a while for the tourist excursions to arrive midday from Sapa, so waking up in Bac Ha gives you the market to yourself – ok maybe 10 other tourists.

  • I bought the Nikon 28-300mm lens for my D810 body and have found that it is great lens for almost all non-super-low-light-hand-held situations. If I have a tripod or day light, it can fill almost any landscape or street photography role. The quality of the pictures are surprisingly good too for being a “non-Holy Trinity” lens. I can cut down my bag’s weight significantly by just having this lens.

    http://www.jessicaheckingernowakphotography.com

  • @katehailey:disqus, the XT-1 its an excellent camera and will certainly expand your options.

  • @jessicaheckingernowak:disqus, certainly right, I used the 28-300 as my to go lens for trips when using the Nikon.

  • @danielkorzeniewski:disqus oh I know, I’ve been able to use it, love it! 🙂

  • Thanks for commenting @councillorjack:disqus, it all depends on the situation, I am on vacation, I´d probably not even bring anything other and than a pocket camera, but if you are in a photo trip or assignment half way across the globe from home the less thing you want to happen is not to have at least a backup. Once in location I am not always carrying all, it really depends what I have planned for the day or what I need to do.

  • Thanks, Yes that´s the plan, we are avoiding Sapa town all together and staying at the villages in home-stays. We are definitely going to do Bac-Ha that way.

  • FNU Brawijaya

    I used about the same set up like you for my 16-day Europe trip. XT-1, XE-2, 18-55, 55-200, 10-24, 56, and 8mm fisheye Samyang (same as Rokinon). I brought 56mm just because I attended a friend’s wedding in France. I still keep my Nikon D4 and D800 for serious photo hunting. However, the percentage to carry Fuji become higher and higher. Now I carry Fuji about 90% of my photo time. Love the system. With the new 18-135mm, now I am selling 18-55 and 55-200mm.

  • FNU Brawijaya

    BTW, love your Bagan picture, Carry. I went there in 2010, and I had to carry 15 kg photo gear. For those who wants to carry one body only, please think again. Based on my experience, I will not carry only one camera body.

  • Yup, almost same configuration, I haven’t looked at the the 18-135 yet, but I think I’ll pass on that one. I believe the only time
    I’d put the D4 to work again would be only during extreme weather conditions of I need to do some kind of sport/fast action shoot. For the rest it really doesn’t give me any advantage.

  • Heather Bennett

    An idea of actual weight could help. Limited to 7Kg total hand luggage from Australia. Unsafe to have it in checked baggage. It goes missing!

  • Photography by James

    Do you not find the electronic viewfinder difficult to use in bright light. I’ve tried borrowing my wife’s Canon M and whilst the quality is great and it is compatible with all my Canon glass via the adaptor I do find it a problem in bright sunlight.

  • Well obviously it’s a sliding scale. Considering what most people pack in their “What’s in my bag” videos it’s ultra-light. But it’s tons compared to when I go deep wilderness backpacking and only bring my Lumix LF1.

    If you go overseas traveling this is pretty reasonable a kit in my opinion.

  • councillorjack

    Agreed. We are in totally different situations so hardly surprising we choose different gear.

  • Hello Daniel:
    Many thanks for your very encouraging article, spot-on. I am just a travelling grandfather with some amateurish interest in portrait photography and I travel extremely light: with only a small Nikon DSLR and a 50mm lens, no zoom. This suits my interest and helps me to “focus”.
    Bac Ha is a great spot for people photography. You will enjoy it. Please, find some photos from Bac Ha and travel hints in my blog about Bac Ha and Lao Cai.
    Safe travels, Matt http://www.konniandmatt.blogspot.com

  • Excellent advise (“…to show a few of the photos I’ve already taken…”). Many thanks for sharing your wonderful and most sensitive travel photos from your flickr account. Stunning!

  • It really depends what your goals are, if I go in a family vacation, I´d probably take just one body and lens. In the other hand if I am on assignment or in a photo trip I like to be prepared for any situation, and yet be as light as possible. Furthermore, I don´t carry all I bring all the time, I just go with what I think will be needed for that day or situation.

  • Kevin, I am pretty sure that´s an excellent kit.

  • Thank you guys, Sapa was really amazing and enjoyed the Bac Ha Market, Still 10 more days of traveling to go, I´ll be sharing photos over at my blog soon.

  • This is something it took me sometime to adapt, fortunately the viewfinder on the X-T1 its huge and resolution incredible. There are really close to none situations where I found myself in trouble with this. But definitely it took me some time to adapt.

  • Heather, I am not sure of the actual weight, but I have never encountered problems with this, most of the time airlines are more flexible when you show that you are carrying expensive gear, and they often have a photo equipment policy that will allow you to bring it in the cabin as long as it fits in the overheard compartment.

  • Thanks you for the comments.

  • I agree. The best way to get those images are to travel light. Nothing kills a photo op quite like schlepping a bag of heavy gear around. A mirrorless and a small film camera can be a perfect minimalist companion

  • I’m glad to hear that others are ok with this. I’m always torn because I take a lot of landscape shots when I travel which is why I drag around my 5D Mark II and two lenses, tripod, etc. But seriously, it’s amazing how much better your pictures turn out when you’re not exhausted from the heavy load, particularly with street photography shots. I’ve found my 5D is certainly not the best camera for this job and have upgraded to a Fuji X100s. Good article!

  • Yeah, I really believe that we should only bring the things that are necessary when we travel. But we should also bring our gadget to shoot a lot of pictures. You might not be back to the place where you are travelling.

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